Observed annually every 8th March, International Women’s Day is held as a worldwide day of celebration, protest and, in some countries, as a national holiday. Last year saw the first University of the Highlands and Islands wide event to mark International Women’s Day. The event was fully booked within 24 hours.
Why was there was such an appetite for the event? To quote the International Women’s campaign “we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence.” This year’s International Women’s Day global theme is #BalanceforBetter. In a time where the spotlight is rightly being shone on the gender inequalities across society, the workplace and in education, International Women’s Day provides our university, like others, with the opportunity to highlight what we are doing to tackle gender inequalities in education for colleagues working in research, professional services and in learning and teaching. International Women’s Day also provides us the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women across the university.
It’s been a busy year since International Women’s Day 2018 with a ripple of change that has come from the event taking place. A ripple that we hope will continue to gain momentum! Our keynote speaker was Dr Sandra Cairncross, Assistant Principal for Widening Participation and Community at Edinburgh Napier University. Sandra explored why Women’s Networks are needed in further and higher education.
From those conversations, we have now established our own university Women’s Network and were fortunate to have international scholar and activist Professor Antonia Darder open the inaugural network meeting in July. The network meets quarterly to explore how we can better promote gender equality at the university, but also to hear from inspirational speakers and to take stock of the great work that is already being done to support equality across the university.
This includes initiatives such as the Athena SWAN Charter, which evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network, to advance the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics. In 2015 the Charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law, and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. Dr Mary Doherty, Senior Lecturer and Head of Postgraduate Researcher Development, spoke at International Women’s Day 2018 around the work she led that resulted in the university successfully achieving an Athena Swan Bronze Award in 2016. Since Athena Swan Bronze Award 2018 the working group, which is chaired by Mary, has expanded to include professional services staff and is working towards both renewal of our accreditation and the submission of individual department awards.
Our first Athena Swan Bronze Award event also highlighted the need to have development opportunities in place to support women to enhance their leadership skills. Since the 2018 event, the university mentoring scheme has been further developed to offer a range of mentoring opportunities which can benefit our women colleagues and help them develop their research and leadership skills. The university has also funded ten colleagues who identify as women to take part in the Advance HE Aurora Leadership Programme.
International Women’s Day also provides the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women! The University of the Highlands and Islands is a dispersed university, with 13 academic partners located throughout the Highlands and Islands region. International Women’s Day provides a forum for the university to bring together colleagues across the network to celebrate and share the many great achievements of those who identify as women.
In 2018 we heard from women in senior roles, including Fiona McLean, Vice-Chair of Court for the University and Chair of the Equality and Diversity in Governance Working
Group, who opened the programme for the day. Fiona has been a great supporter in promoting equality at the university and is currently providing support to those on the Aurora leadership programme as a mentor and role model. This year, our International Women’s Day event was opened by Dr Sue Engstrand, Interim Dean of our faculty of science, health and engineering. Sue is a mentor, Auroran alumni and inspiration to those she mentors, supports and leads. It’s this commitment to empowering others and passion for equality that inspires change! We also heard two inspirational stories from our staff and student presenters and invited participants to celebrate someone who identifies as a woman that inspires them.
Should we only be celebrating the achievements of women on one day of the year? No, we should celebrating the achievements of women every day. Should we use 8th March to bring together some of those inspirational women together in celebration? Yes we should!
Professional Recognition and Development Coordinator and International Women’s Day organiser for the University of the Highlands and Islands